Opinion: Why I Couldn’t Care Less About Assassin’s Creed 4
So then – the first details for Assassin’s Creed 4 have seemingly been leaked.
Apparently the game will see you take on the role of an 18th century pirate in the Caribbean, boarding ships to slay foes and collect precious booty. Apparently it will be released sometime in late 2013.
Apparently you will actually play the grandfather of Connor from Assassin’s Creed 3 – who is called Edward Kenway, or Captain Jack Sparrow, or something.
But whatever the truth of the matter – and the full details will no doubt be unveiled soon enough by Ubisoft – I have to say that I honestly couldn’t care less.
I love pirates as much as the next man, but of all the myriad headline-grabbing games scheduled for release this year, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag would have to rank right down at the bottom of my personal wish-list. And there’s one very simple reason why.
In my opinion, the Assassin’s Creed series has now become the very epitome of what I like to call ‘franchise fatigue’. We’ve had far too many games in far too short a space of time, and with each new release the impact of Ubisoft’s historical stealth-action series has become less and less.
I’m not for a moment saying that I don’t like the Assassin’s Creed games. Far from it. I absolutely loved Assassin’s Creed II – it’s probably one of my favourite experiences of this generation, in fact – and it was precisely that adoration that saw me snap up AC: Brotherhood like a shot when it arrived on the scene just a year later. Sure, it offered ‘more of the same’ – but that’s precisely why I wanted it.
However, the trouble with ‘more of the same’ is that it only proves an attractive prospect when a series is still new, fresh and exciting. After a while ‘more of the same’ simply produces ever diminishing returns, and despite attempts to introduce certain new features, ideas or even entirely new settings, when you pump out as many installments as Assassin’s Creed has done, that initial rush of novelty value soon becomes stale.
The first Assassin’s Creed was flawed yes; but the fledgling series had so much to recommend it, and felt like a breath of fresh air with its time-traveling, free-running, hidden-blade slaying, haystack-hiding adventures. None of the major releases have been particularly disappointing – save, perhaps, for the slightly underwhelming Revelations – but even though Assassin’s Creed III offered up a whole new time period, backdrop and central character, the curse of the annual release is still felt all-too keenly.
Call Of Duty’s yearly onslaught has become a regular Big Event in the gaming calendar, and publishers everywhere are looking to emulate that success with their own iconic, instantly-recognisable franchises – which become familiar to gamers through constant new releases and spin-offs.
But familiarity also breeds contempt. And in Assassin’s Creed’s case, we’re actually seeing more than just annual installments. There have so far been twelve titles in the series across all platforms in just five years, and the frequency with which Ubisoft’s cash-cow is now being milked shows no sign of abating.
The trouble is that this practice of churning-out game after game actually cheapens, waters-down, and diminishes the impact of the series. As good as the Assassin’s Creed games are, ‘franchise fatigue’ is actually killing any real sense of excitement and significance about them.
People are so unbelievably pumped for the release of GTA V and BioShock Infinite this year precisely because Rockstar and Irrational have spent so much time in development between each major release – making the games’ advances much more of a leap-forward, and the overall aesthetic and approach so much more novel each time. They seem like titles that have been created with real love, vision and ambition, while the production-line approach of CoD and Assassin’s Creed can’t help but make those games seem rushed or – indeed – simply ‘more of the same’, by comparison.
I actually can’t help but feel that Assassin’s Creed as a series is being somewhat held back from its possibilities by the annual release approach. I love the idea of an Assassin’s Creed title in Victorian London, Feudal Japan, or Ancient Rome – but it’s highly unlikely we’ll see these things before another dozen AC games come our way.
If you’re going to milk your franchise for all its worth, you’re going to have to draw upon pre-existing templates. And that’s why we’ve already had three full console releases revolving around Ezio, and why Assassin’s Creed 4’s 18th century piracy comes hot on the heels of AC3 – which introduced a 1700s aesthetic and naval battle mechanics that can easily be incorporated into the next installment.
You have to applaud the efforts of Ubisoft’s design teams in producing such high-quality output on such a regular basis, even accounting for the fact that different teams are staggering the development of different games. And I am genuinely impressed that each game manages to be so very good, in spite of the regularity with which they are being churned-out.
But as enjoyable as the Assassin’s Creed games are – you know what? I’m bored of them.
I’m bored of scaling buildings. I’m bored of stabbing people with retractable blades. I’m bored of leaps of faith, games of hide-and-seek with guards, and headlong dashes through eventful streets – even though these things thrilled me so much to begin with, and even though the developers keep attempting to interest the gamer with shiny new things.
The naval battles aren’t enough. That tower-defence mini-game from Revelations certainly wasn’t enough.
The truth is that I feel all Assassin’s Creed-ed out. And I’d much rather get stuck into a novel indie game, major new IP, or sequel that actually feels like a giant leap forward, then spend my precious time and hard-earned cash on an increasingly-familiar franchise that just keeps on coming.